I've Graduated but I'm still searching for Osama

An original article by Sarah Weddington. Austin American-Statesman, June 2002.

The excitement of graduation season has permeated central Texas. Families have been gathering to celebrate scholastic accomplishment. It's been years since I've been a student, but have also been celebrating. I graduated from cancer treatment with my "special classmates".

Austin American-Statesman readers know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2001, and have since been doing the "cancer dance": surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

Next to my UT Law School diploma is my laminated cancer graduation certificate. Literally. Texas Oncology certified that completed the prescribed treatment "with the highest degree of courage, determination, and good nature". (The fact that the same certificate is given to every patient who completes treatment detracts from the significance of the language, but I'm still happy to have it).

Do l still have cancer? Will it resurface? Will have to go through treatment again in the future? No one knows. The TV show "Survivor" features contestants who know when the game is over. But cancer "survivors" never reach that point. The doctors will only say that I have "no current evidence of disease", that I'm NED. I've come to think of cancer cells as being like Osama bin Laden. We don't know if he's dead or alive and hiding in some cave.

Similarly, I don't know if the cancer is dead or alive and hiding in body caves and waiting to jump out and shout "boo!" I'm grateful to be NED, but I'd prefer to have a more permanent diagnosis. What does graduating from treatment mean? Medically it means that I've entered the phase called "wait and watch". I'll have check ups every 3 months for a year, and have been instructed to watch for any unusual symptoms. There is a fine line between being smartly observant and paranoid. For example, I'm looking at a place on my hand that has the shape of a volcano with a hard center – I've never had anything like that before. According to my caregivers, it is normal for every unusual symptom to make cancer patients nervous and worried.

The negative side-effects of treatment are gradually subsiding. My energy is slowly returning, as is my hair (I lost it all on June 30, 2001 as a result of chemotherapy.) A friend came by the office recently and announced "You've got hair!" It sounded better to me than anything having to do with mail. My doctor has given me clearance to travel again. While treatment was killing my immune system, he likened planes to "cigar shaped germ factories" and suggested I avoid them. Following this news, two friends gave me a travel angel figurine. It hangs from the ceiling fan over my desk and must have worked; I have hair—and airplane tickets!

Treatment brought events to cheer about in spite of the difficulties. For example, former President Jimmy Carter called to check on me. All thirteen women in the U.S. Senate autographed a book; getting it made me tearfully happy. Friends arranged for me to have a massage after each difficult treatment; it is a gift I highly recommend for other cancer patients. Life-wise, graduation means that I have to acknowledge the uncertainty of my future. It's true for all of us, but we seldom think about it. Now I'm thinking about it a great deal.

Recently l attended the Lance Armstrong Foundation benefit which raised money to fight cancer. Armstrong made a fervent presentation, and Robin Williams provided great entertainment. Two phrases have stuck with me: "the obligation of the cured" (or at least the treated) and "putting hope in motion".

I am grateful for the quality medical care I've received in Austin, and I'm determined that we must reduce—and eventually eliminate the number of women going through breast cancer. To put hope in motion and help others, I am the honorary chair for the Austin Breast Cancer Resource Center champagne brunch on Sunday, October 6. Our theme is "Laugh Hard for a Serious Cause".

The Center provides information, volunteer counseling, and some financial underpinning for those diagnosed with breast cancer. Its an important mission, and we need the support of Central Texans.

My journey continues day by day. I am simultaneously acknowledging uncertainty and planning for the future. I am still searching for Osama but also finding more reasons to celebrate life.

Breast Cancer Resource Center Benefit—October 6, 2002

Speakers include Molly Ivins, two stars from Esther's Follies (Shannon Sedwick and Leova Rosanoff), and Susan Sager. It is at 11:00 am at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and will include a silent auction.

For additional information, please contact Lisa Rodman of the Breast Cancer Resource Center at 472-1738 extension 102.